Apple rejects Barr claim that company has given no ‘substantive assistance’ in Pensacola shooting probe

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Apple is refuting Attorney General William Barr’s claim that the company has not given federal investigators “any substantive assistance” in its investigation into a December shooting at a Pensacola, Fla., military base that left three dead. 

The company also reiterated its stance on protecting encrypted devices following Barr’s push for law enforcement to gain access to the gunman’s iPhone communications. 

Barr leveled the accusations against the Silicon Valley giant during a press conference Monday in which he detailed the findings of an investigation into the massacre, which was carried out by a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force who had enrolled in the Naval Air Station Pensacola training program. 

Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others after entering the naval station grounds on Dec. 6. Barr said that shooting qualified as an “act of terrorism” and that Alshamrani was motivated by a “jihadist ideology.” 

He pleaded with Apple to help investigators learn more about the gunman’s communications ahead of the incident. 

“It is very important to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating before he died,” Barr said, noting that the two Apple iPhones Alshamrani carried during the attack were “virtually impossible” to access. 

“This situation perfectly illustrates why it is critical that investigators be able to get access to digital evidence once they have obtained a court order based on probable cause,” he added. “We call on Apple and other technology companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of Americans and prevent future attacks.”

Challenging Barr’s comments, Apple said in a statement that it has offered investigators a variety of information since the attack. The company said it provided iCloud backups, account information and transactional data for multiple accounts in response to six legal requests in December. 

An Apple spokesperson added that the company wasn’t notified until Jan. 6 that federal investigators needed assistance with respect to the iPhones. The spokesperson said that Apple would continue to work with the FBI, but stressed the company’s stance on safeguarding encryption.

“We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys,” the spokesperson said. “Backdoors can also be exploited by those who threaten our national security and the data security of our customers. Today, law enforcement has access to more data than ever before in history, so Americans do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations. We feel strongly encryption is vital to protecting our country and our users’ data.”

Apple’s stance on user privacy has set off conflict with federal investigators in the past. In 2015, the company refused to grant the FBI access to the iPhone of the gunman who carried out a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
Jennifer Granick, the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Surveillance and Cybersecurity Counsel, told Recode that Barr’s demand “would weaken the security of millions of iPhones, and is dangerous and unconstitutional.” 
“Strong encryption enables religious minorities facing genocide, like the Uighurs in China, and journalists investigating powerful drug cartels in Mexico, to communicate safely with each other, knowledgeable sources, and the outside world,” she said. 
Tags Apple Encryption IPhone Terrorism William Barr

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